Archive for the ‘HK YEAR OF PRODUCTION 2010’ Category

GIRL$ [NAM NAM | 囡囡]

2010/11/11

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Kenneth Bi Produced by: Kin Hung Ng  Cast: Michelle Wai, Seli Xian, Minyi Wang, Una Lin, Deep Ng, kwok Cheung Tsang, Eric Tse

It’s not the first time youth prostitution is the subject of a movie, and it’s also not the first time that it’s hard to say how serious or exploitative the result is. Is it a film about prostitution, is it a film with prostitution as a mere canvas, is it a film against prostitution, or is it actually just a T&A show?

To be fair, GIRL$ doesn’t fall into the good old CATIII category because of its exploitative nature. As it turns out, GIRL$ is a halfway serious attempt of halfway serious filmmaking. The story follows four girls who turn to paid “dating” for reasons that are not always entirely clear, but are in any case superficial. Expensive handbags or sheer boredom are hardly good reasons to sleep with someone for money. Or is it just one of the choices that is within easy reach in our multi-options-society? Maybe it’s the internet’s fault: technological advancement makes prostitution so damn easy.

When I mentioned “reasons” before, I believe that wasn’t precise enough. The reason, the goal, might be obvious, but what’s missing is a motivation. You might want that handbag, but that doesn’t tell much about the fact that you choose to pimp out yourself to the highest bidder in order to get it. So what the movie does is primarily dealing with objectives, and showing us that for these girls prostitution is a way to get there. What GIRL$ doesn’t explain is why the handbag is so important that the means to the end are completely out of proportion.

Mr. Bi is not explaining to the audience what’s really going on. GIRL$ is much more like a report on an extreme lifestyle than an essay on morals and declining standards of society. There is little context here, it’s a black-and-white world: you turn to prostitution for some pocket-money or you don’t. As is the case with the girl who bids on an internet auction. Mr. Bi makes it seem as if there are only two choices: not to have the money to pay up for the goods or to go on a paid date.

And I think that is where GIRL$ is just wrong: instead of touching on the decision-making process, the motivation behind, the question of right and wrong or at least somewhat conscious actions, the film is presenting reality as a pre-determined road to perdition with a predictable outcome: sooner or later you will be a prostitute. So it’s all not so much a matter of why you become a prostitute, it’s only a matter of when.

Great films like Masato Harada’s BOUNCE CO GALS have proven a long time ago that contemporary cinema can deal with the harsh reality out there and make it all mean something, without being a boring discourse on changing times. That doesn’t require a huge budget or funny tricks, all it requires is real insight and detailed observation. Something Mr. Bi doesn’t prove to have: GIRL$ has probably been written with a couple of newspaper articles as source material and a bit of he said she said that he said that she told him gossip.

GIRL$ could have been an insightful film providing us with a proper learning curve about what makes the youth tick, what they really want and what their state of mind is. Instead it turns out feeling like a “desk job”: a case made up more or less well, without ever reaching the depth you’d achieve if you had ever left that desk in the first place.

J.

 

 

 

 

 


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REIGN OF ASSASSINS [JIANYU | 剑雨]

2010/10/24

http://www.mediaasia.com/reignofassassins

http://jianyu.ent.sina.com.cn/

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: John Woo, Su Chao-Pin Written by: Su Chao-Pin Produced by: John Woo, Terence Chang  Cinematography by: Wong Wing-Hung, Arthur Wong  Editing by: Cheung Ka-Fai  Music by: Peter Kam  Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Jung Woo-Sung, Wang Xueqi, Barbie Hsu, Shawn Yue, Kelly Lin, Guo Xiaodong, Jiang Yiyan, Leon Dai, Paw Hee-Ching, Pace Wu, Li Zonghan, Jiang Yiyan

We are still far away from a real renaissance, but with two small masterpieces launched around the same time that are reviving the best traditions of Hong Kong cinema we are kind of spoiled for choice: no matter if you see DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME or REIGN OF ASSASSINS first, you’ll end up coming to the same conclusion – that you just saw a film that looks and feels as good as Hong Kong movies did twenty years ago.

And again it is no surprise that REIGN OF ASSASSINS is helmed by a veteran director of the golden age of Hong Kong cinema: after RED CLIFF John Woo has returned to China once again, this time telling the tale of the mummified remains of an Indian monk that are supposed to bear magical powers. Various parties are after the treasure, including the Dark Stone gang whose top assassin Drizzle (Kelly Lin) gets hold of the remains, but decides to live an ordinary life instead of returning to the gang after meeting a monk and master swordsman who sacrifices himself to enlighten her.

She changes her appearance through surgery and assumes the identity of Zeng Jing (Michelle Yeoh). She moves to the city and opens a store selling cloth, and soon after marries messenger Ah Sheng. They could have lived happily ever after, but the script thinks otherwise: the Dark Stone gang is still in pursuit of the remains, and their leader Wheel King (Xueqi Wang) is upping the ante by sending three assassins to hunt down Drizzle. Lei Bin (Shawn Yue), The Magician (Leon Dai) and sexy but merciless killer Turqoise (Barbie Hsu) are are getting closer to the truth, while some more surprising twists complicate things further. Everything gears towards the last stand-off between Drizzle and her old gang, with some uninvited guests are joining the party.

For a Hong Kong swordsplay flick (new or old) REIGN OF ASSASSINS has a very solid story, detailed characterization and inventive script. All is quite right: the movie’s depth and complexity is intriguing, but never reaches the kind of confusion that have made movies like SWORDSMAN 2 as tiring as an accounting seminar. On the contrary, REIGN OF ASSASSINS achieves a great level of integration with the story driving the action and vice versa. I didn’t know what to expect at first with Su Chao-Pin being under my radar in the past, but it must be said that the script is fabulous.

The same must be said about the action: the choreography is state-of-the-art, a very modern yet artistic interpretation of swordsplay, with spectacular gimmicks and incredible pace, as beautiful to watch as it is breathtaking. Mr. Woo has teamed with legendary DOP Wong Wing-Hung (A CHINESE GHOST STORY, THE KILLER, HARDBOILED) and it is obvious from the beginning that he enjoyed shooting the film quite a bit more than BEAUTY ON DUTY (that’s only my assumption, of course). However, action hasn’t looked that good for a while, and it’s not a coincidence that it comes from the people who originally turned made in Hong Kong into a valuable trademark as far as filmmaking goes.

What brings me back to Tsui Hark’s DETECTIVE DEE and what I wrote about it earlier: DETECTIVE DEE and REIGN OF ASSASSINS are not exceptional for what they are inventing, but because of what they are preserving, or bringing back to the silver screen. Both mark the return to Pre-‘97 Hong Kong filmmaking, and while they are of course products of 2010 they seem as imaginative, untroubled, powerful and touching as movies were back then.

Those who don’t care much about the past or know very little about it should note however that contemporary Hong Kong cinema doesn’t get any better than this. If REIGN OF ASSASSINS, or DETECTIVE DEE for that matter, don’t convince you this kind of cinema simply isn’t for you. And all the dedicated fans will be pleased to hear that, at least for a moment, Mr. Tsui and Mr. Woo have put back the magic into Hong Kong films. Enjoy it while it lasts.

J.

 

 

 


DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME [DI RENJIE ZHI TONG TIAN DI GUO | 狄仁傑 之 通天帝國]

2010/10/18

http://www.emp.hk/

http://www.filmworkshop.net/

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Tsui Hark Written by: Chen Kuofu  Story by: Lin Qianyu  Produced by: Tsui Hark, Nansun Shi, Peggy Lee  Cinematography by: Chi Ying Chan, Chor Keung Chan  Editing by: Chi Wai Yau  Music by: Peter Kam  Cast: Andy Lau, Carina Lau, Li Bingbing, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Deng Cao, Teddy Robin Kwan, Jinshan Liu

There are many people who wish that Hong Kong cinema was still the way it was in its heyday, and I am probably one of them. What bugs me the most, and has bugged me ever since 1997, is that the liabilities of Hong Kong cinema have survived (the tedious humor, the flawed scriptwriting, the sloppy filming, the overacting, and so forth), while all its qualities seemed to have vanished over night. We were robbed of John Woo, Ringo Lam, Ching Siu-Tung, Tsui Hark, and most of all the magic made in Hong Kong, and were left with the imitators, the junk and all the rest that we put up with only because the show had to go on.

In recent years we have seen more attempts to bring back what I’d consider the “real” Hong Kong cinema, yet the renaissance never got off the ground, with the old masters remaining absent or concentrating on less-than-appealing projects, while the disciples were hampered by small budgets, a local audience that doesn’t care or their own doing-it-for-money attitude, while again others continued doing what they always did, like Wong Jing, hence keeping up the bad work nobody needs.

Now we all don’t know how the story will continue, but what we can say is that there’s a bright light on the horizon and its name is DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME. I am not going to suggest that the film is bringing anything to the table that we haven’t seen before, because it doesn’t, but what it brings to the table is what we have seen before but haven’t seen in a very long time, and that would be the point of watching, and enjoying, Tsui Hark’s latest gem, a movie that’s charming, creative, humorous and zesty like maybe no other film made in Hong Kong since the early 90’s (including Mr. Tsui’s own).

DETECTIVE DEE essentially is a historic crime saga, a Chinese Sherlock Holmes story, presenting a who dunnit case set in the Tang Dynasty. Shortly before Empress Wu Zetian is going to be crowned the first female Emperor of China, a series of mysterious murders is threatening to delay her crowning ceremony. She orders the incidents to be solved immediately so that everything can go ahead as planned, and she feels there is only one person who can succeed on such short notice: master detective Dee (a fictional version of the legendary official Di Renjie), who is serving time in prison for previously opposing her seizing the throne.

Once he is brought back and reinstalled as head of the justice system, he is in for a real rollercoaster ride, fighting against the Empress’ henchmen, political games, deception and conspiracy and the ultimate murder weapon, not to mention the many more murders that are following. Dee and his associates are running into traps and out of time, while the ceremony approaches and everyone’s fate is on the line.

Mr. Tsui seems to have learned from SEVEN SWORDS and has found just the right balance for a complex yet streamlined plot with DETECTIVE DEE, presenting a well-rounded, twisty, logical and believable script that boasts creativity while never derailing into a historic drama of encyclopedic proportions. Mr. Tsui also understands that taking yourself too seriously makes you vulnerable, and he has injected enough twinkle-in-the-eye moments into DETECTIVE DEE to make it fly with ease. At the same time it is as witty as it is enthralling, fast-paced and eloquent, displaying confidence and a great sense of what makes cinema cinematic.

The performances are top-notch, first and foremost Andy Lau (who still knows how to lead a movie despite starring in too many disaster movies) and the formidable Carina Lau, with Li Bingbing and Tony Leung Ka-Fai also being part of the illustrious ensemble. You can feel how much they enjoyed making this movie, it’s almost as if they had the same impression of traveling back in time that I had, shooting once again a Hong Kong movie how it was, and still is, supposed to be.

Fans will also be pleased to hear that Mr. Tsui has put considerable effort into the action sequences that look less like Sammo Hung’s work (which they are), but more like that of Ching Siu-Tung, resembling the trademark action of the late 80’s and 90’s as found in many of the classic swordplay epics. Coincidence or not, DETECTIVE DEE is getting as close as that is possibly possible to the Hark-produced, Ching-directed, genre defining A CHINESE GHOST STORY (the movie that most probably originally put Hong Kong cinema on the world map), made in 1987.

Having said that, I also dare to predict that fans of the old school Hong Kong cinema, as much as those who are relatively new to the genre, will be thrilled by DETECTIVE DEE’s breathtaking cinematography, superb martial arts sequences (many of which are better than most of those some self-proclaimed martial arts masterpieces have to offer) and a gripping story right until the end.

In a nutshell, DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME is awe-inspiring, and that’s not because it changes everything we know, but because it’s everything Mr. Tsui knows about film, in a film.

J.